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Spectromorphology is the perceived sonic footprint of a sound spectrum as it manifests in time. A descriptive spectromorphological analysis of sound is sometimes used in the analysis of electroacoustic music, especially acousmatic music. The term was coined by Denis Smalley in 1986 and is considered the most adequate English term to designate the field of sound research associated with the French writer, composer, and academic, Pierre Schaeffer [ citation needed ].


Schaeffer's work at INA/GRM in Paris, beginning in the late 1940s, culminated in the publication of the book Traité des objets musicaux in 1966. Smalley's notion of spectromorphology builds upon Schaeffer's theories relating to the use of a classification system for various categories of sound. [1]

Smalley's term refers to the descriptive analysis of perceived morphological developments in sound spectra over time, and it implies that the "spectro" cannot exist without the morphology: something has to be shaped and that something must have sonic content (Smalley, 1986, 1997).

Theoretical framework

The theoretical framework of spectro-morphology is articulated mainly in four parts:

Spectral typologies

Smalley defines three different spectral typologies that exist in what he calls the noise-note continuum. This continuum is subdivided into three principal elements:

Morphological archetypes

Smalley also designates different morphological archetypes:


  1. (Thoresen:2007)

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